The Cailleach ( KAL-y-ach ) is an ancient goddess of the Earth and the winter months. She is the lichen covered rocks and the mountain peaks. She is the earth that is bare and covered with snow, ice and frost. She is one of the deep ancestors. She is mainly honored and worshipped in Scotland and Ireland. The Goddess who oversees the transformation from Summer to Winter. She is the Death Goddess, who lets die what is no longer is needed. She is the guardian of the seeds. She rules the months between Samhain and Beltaine. On the night of Samhain she is said to leave her mountains and walks the lands bringing winter. She is said to ride on the back of a wolf carrying a wand made out of human skin which she uses to strike down any signs of growth. Trailing behind her and her ride are cold winds, blizzards and ice. In Scotland, she is also called Beira, Queen of Winter.
The hag of winter, Cailleach is described as a hag with a blue-black face with only one eye sometimes in the center of her forehead. Her teeth are red and her hair is matted and covered with frost. She wears gray clothes and a great plaid wrapped around her shoulders. In some traditions she has teeth of a wild boar and boar's tusk. She is believed to be a great sorceress. She is also thought to be the one that created Earth and mother of all gods and goddesses. In her right hand she carries a hammer, magick wand or a staff. She could turn standing stones into full amored giant warriors. With her hammer she shapes the hills and valleys. She is credited with making numerous mountains, valleys and large hills, which was made when she would stradle across land and accidentally dropped rocks from her apron. In some stories she is said to have meant to built mountains to use as stepping stones across the landscape. Countless Irish myths tell how she created huge mounds, megaliths and towers in a single night. With her staff, she is said to be able to freeze the ground.Her sacred trees are the holly and the gorse bush, under which she hids her staff, before tuning to stone. She can't stand the spring; the green grass and warm sun so when spring comes she throws a fit and throws her staff underneath the holly bush before she eithers disappear in a whirlwind or turns into a boulder. That is why no grass grows under the holly tree. Some myths says that she turns into a boulder at Beltaine until the warm days are over.
Another aspect of Cailleach is she is the protector and steward of wild animals, particularly deer and wolves. She was said to speak to hunters telling them where the deer was and how many to kill and when. She is also said to herd the deers. In Scotland, she is said to have been herding some deer and watching over a spring. She fell asleep and the spring over flowed into the valley and created Loch Awe.
In Kerry and Cork, Ireland, she is considered the goddess of giving the kings the right to rule the land. She usually appears as an old woman, who asks the hero if he would sleep with her. If the hero agrees then she transforms into a beautiful woman.
In Scotland and Ireland, the first famer to finish the grain harvest would make a corn dolly, representing the Cailleach, from the last sheaf of crop.The figure would then be tossed into the fields of a neighbor who had not yet finished bringing in their grain. The last farmer to finish had the responsibilty to take in and care for the corn dolly for the next year. It was considered a serious and fierce competition among the farmers who would try to avoid taking in the Old Woman. There were different traditions that dictated what was to be done with the last sheaf of grain; feeding it to livestock, tilling it back into the ground or shaking over the fields. Many young girls didn't want to tie the last sheaf because they were afraid they would never get married. One folklore describes tying the Cailleach with a ribbon and hanging in on a nail until Spring. In some places they would put an apron on the corn dolly and fill it with cheese, bread, and a sickle.
Some legends describe her as being a descendant of the Tuatha de Danann. According to the Yellow Book of Lecan, a 14th century manuscript, the descendants of Cailleach's children became many people and races. It says she had seven periods of youth and her mates died of old age. One of her mates was said to have been Lugh.
I think this blog has been the most fulfilling 'adventure' that I have had since I started this blog site. I have been practicing my Celtic path since 1986, along the way I have learnt many things. I never considered or honored any certain pantheon of gods and goddesses. Last year about this time, I took Lugh as one of my gods. Doing the research and connecting the dots along the way during the research on Cailleach, a lot of things that I found stirred my spirit and the ancestral blood in my veins. I feel Cailleach personally calling to me and I will heed her call.